Psychologist Susan Silk and her friend Barry Goldman wrote a piece about a concept they called the “Ring Theory”. This is something I find helpful when trying to support loved ones. When someone has been through trauma, they will need support. During that time it is important to realize the best ways to help. As we try to support them, it is not a time to advise or talk about how hard it is to give them support. It will also be important for you to be supported. That support needs to be from other people, not the one you are trying to help. You do not want the person you are trying to support to feel like a burden. We can balance our own emotions about what is happening and give space to those have been affected more than we have.
Here are a few of the concepts from that article on how to use “Ring Theory”. This can be used in all types of crisis.
“Draw a circle. This is the center ring. In it, put the name of the person at the center of the current trauma… Now draw a larger circle around the first one. In that ring put the name of the person next closest to the trauma. Repeat the process as many times as you need to. In each larger ring put the next closest people. Parents and children before more distant relatives. Intimate friends in smaller rings, less intimate friends in larger ones. When you are done you have a Kvetching Order.”
“Here are the rules. The person in the center ring can say anything she wants to anyone, anywhere. She can kvetch and complain and whine and moan and curse the heavens and say, "Life is unfair" and "Why me?" That's the one payoff for being in the center ring."
“Everyone else can say those things too, but only to people in larger rings. When you are talking to a person in a ring smaller than yours, someone closer to the center of the crisis, the goal is to help. Listening is often more helpful than talking. But if you're going to open your mouth, ask yourself if what you are about to say is likely to provide comfort and support. If it isn't, don't say it. Don't, for example, give advice. People who are suffering from trauma don't need advice. They need comfort and support. So say, "I'm sorry" or "This must really be hard for you" or "Can I bring you a pot roast?" Don't say, "You should hear what happened to me" or "Here's what I would do if I were you." And don't say, "This is really bringing me down."
“If you want to scream or cry or complain, if you want to tell someone how shocked you are or how icky you feel, or whine about how it reminds you of all the terrible things that have happened to you lately, that's fine. It's a perfectly normal response. Just do it to someone in a bigger ring."
“Comfort IN, dump OUT."
Here is the link to the full article, How Not to Say the Wrong Thing by Susan Silk and Barry Goldman https://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-xpm-2013-apr-07-la-oe-0407-silk-ring-theory-20130407-story.html
Jennifer White, LCSW
Jennifer specializes in helping people with depression, anxiety, sexuality concerns, trauma, and faith transitions/journeys. She offers coaching/consultation and therapy services to individuals, couples and families.